Nots & Crosses

shruti24anand

Nots & Crosses is a graphic novel, illustrating the biography of Phoolan Devi (1963-2001), who was also known as the Queen Bandit of India, and is portrayed as the reincarnation of Ching Shih (1775-1844), the most dreaded female pirate of China. This narrative features re-contextualized and thought provoking quotes by famous personalities on the lives of these women, illuminating the issues pertaining to oppression and how the notion of being powerful and strong, somehow, came to mean “To be tough and brutal like a man.”
The title “Nots & Crosses” is based on how girls are not supposed to act a certain way and all the obstructions and barriers faced by these women, this is what the “Nots” represent and the crosses are for how they crossed over these prejudices and defined their own path despite of being restricted and told not to.

as the reincarnation of Ching Shih for the purpose of weaving their

lives together and showing an intriguing similarity, as well as contrast

between their lives. What tickled my inspiration bone to write and

illustrate this graphic novel is a feather placed in my childhood.

I remember the early morning discussions, amongst my parents, on the

predominant topic of violence and crimes, especially against women.

The daily newspaper was always flooded with victims of rape, shut

down due to the “lack of evidence” or “anonymous reports”. The

articles were rarely about fighters who went ahead and took justice

into their own hands which, subconsciously, stayed within my head

for a long time. My curiosity grew along with me and then one day

I came across Phoolan Devi’s story which changed my life.

While I delved deeper into her story, I also looked at women who

physically fought their way to power while defying gender roles, thus,

leading to my interest in Ching Shih’s biography. Both these women

reached a position of power and were able to be heard, through different

tactics but at the same time for a similar cause. The juxtaposition of

certain events of their lives almost wrote itself. Through this narrative,

I hope to blaze the fire or, at least, ignite the flame, budding within us

towards this topic of oppression, empowerment of women and the need

to speak and be loud about the wrong being done to us and around us.

You may forget what has been written, you may forget what they did

but, I promise you, you will never forget how their story made you

feel, question and want to change the way things are.


When the whole world is silent,

even one voice becomes

powerful.

Malala Yousafzai


There is news that sri

ram and his gang are

hiding in behmai village.

1


Gather the

men and

weapons

and prepare

to kill.

22


THE GANG PACKED THE WEAPONS, SPLIT UP IN THREE BOATS AND SAILED

TOWARDS BEHMAI VILLAGE. WE GOT OFF CLOSE TO THE BORDER AND CLIMBED

OUR WAY UP THE SANDY HILLS.

MARCHING THROUGH THE NIGHT, WE DISCUSSED OUR TACTICS. BABA MUSTAKIM,

BALWAN, MAN SINGH AND I KNEW THAT SHRI RAM’S GANG WAS WELL-ARMED

AND IN ORDER TO SURVIVE WE HAD TO surround them.

33


WE WALKED FOR MILES UNTIL WE REACHED Ingwi, A SHEPHERD VILLAGE.

THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE SHRIRAM AND HIS GANG HAD

TORTURED YOU, PHOOLAN.

4


OUT OF THE SILENCE WE HEARD SCREECHING THROUGH A POWERFUL HAILER. IT

WAS SHRI RAM’S VOICE, ECHOING IN THE RAVINES.

you think you can

get me, mustakim?!

me, shri ram the

thakur, you and your

muslim pigs!

and you balwan, a

shepherd, a caste of

shit! we have already

given you one

lesson and now you

want another?!

55


SHRI RAM AND HIS MEN HAD BEEN TIPPED OFF. WE HAD TO THINK AND MOVE

FAST. tHE GANG SPLIT INTO SMAL GROUPS AND HEEDLESSLY ADVANCED IN THE

DIRECTION OF HIS VOICE.

WHILE BALWAN AND HIS MEN WERE BUSY TERRORIZING THE VILLAGE, I SAW

SOME MEN FLEEING FROM THE REAR OF THE VILLAGE.

OVER HERE! THEY’RE

GETTING AWAY!

6


There was heavy exchange of fire for a while, driving Shri Ram’s gang

further up the ravine, but at about a thousand yards from the village

they stopped shooting back. They must have retreated and missed Shri

Ram by a whisker of his red moustache.

77


We decided to return to the village in case they tried to double back

and trap us from behind. Baba Mustakim was furious and I was beside

myself with anger.

There is only one way

to get a hold of Shri

Ram and its through his

men, phoolan.

line them up!

All these men stood

there and did nothing

while I was abused and

humiliated by Shri Ram

and his gang.

YOU DID NOTHING!

8


Most of you not only stood

there, but participated and took

turns to violate every inch of

my body because you thought I

did not respect the Thakurs.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT

THAT FEELS LIKE?!

99


Even after that I was still

considered disrespectful

and was told that I deserved

it. If I fought back they told

me to relax and enjoy it.

DID YOU?!

I was never given the chance to speak

or fight back and neither will you.

10


1111


1212


Above all, be the

heroine of your life,

not the victim.

Nora Ephron


On 10th August, 1963, in a small village called Ghura Ka Purwa, Uttar

Pradesh, I was born as a female, into poverty and belonged to a low

caste called Mallahs.

Phoolan, where are you

going with that stick?

To the jungle, Buppa. I’m

going with Choti.

13


Don’t worry the stick is

to beat the snakes and

not the boys.

Phoolan! Go fetch some

water from the well but

before leaving come

here, I want to tell you

something.

Every morning the day started with Amma reminding me to embrace my

strength, confidence and fight back when needed.

If those boys or anybody slaps

you, slap them back. Remember, if

someone beats you and you don't

fight back, then I'll beat you.

Yes, amma.

Good, Stand up straight

and be proud of yourself.

Now, run along and fetch

some water.

14


While returning from the well, I saw Mayadin, Buppa’s elder bother’s

son, leaving with our family's only neem tree.

I leapt at his moving cart and grabbed the rope harness that ran

through the nose of the bullock, refusing to let go, no matter how

much Mayadin whipped at me from his seat.

15


I ran back home and told buppa

what I had just witnessed.

Yes, we spoke about it and we

agreed to cut down the tree.

How could you let

this happen?! Can’t

you see that he’s

trying to take over

our land!

What is done is done.

Now forget about it.

Forget about it?! You won’t

fight for this, will you?

Come Didi, I have a plan.

She’s right,

Buppa.

WE staged a sit in on the land and did not move even when the family

elders tried to use force to drag us home.

Unfortunately, our fight was in vain. Mayadin haD WON...

16


A year had passed and things were still the same. I was playing with

my friends in the lake and saw Didi running towards us.

pHOOLAN! BUPPA IS CALLING YOU!

WHY? I ALREADY BROUGHT TWO

BUCKETS OF WATER!

YOUR BRIDEGROOM IS HERE.

Huh? My bridegroom?

HURRY UP! LET’S GO!

17


She is only eleven. Can’t you

tell him to wait a while?

Wait for how long? What if

she gets tampered with? A

daughter is always a burden,

and ours is no beauty.

The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping

of females begins when the doctor says, "It's a girl."

Shirley Chisholm

I’ve already paid for

her with this bike and

cow. Don’t think that

there is a shortage

of girls for me.

18


We were poor and were about to have another addition to our family

as mother was pregnant with a baby boy. So, at the age of eleven, I

was married off to Putti Lal, a thirty year old man.

Touch your husband’s feet

and take his blessings

Alright, now, get

a move on.

Now, go, start a new life.

A Haryana khap panchayat said the marriageable

age for girls should be lowered to prevent the

rising number of rapes in Haryana. I am with the

khaps on this issue. This will protect women.

Om Prakash Chautala

19


One day I was happily playing in the lake and the other day I was

married. That is how things worked in our village. We sat on a boat

and sailed off to my husband’s village

I wish someone would have told

me that, just because I'm a girl,

I don't have to get married.

Marlo Thomas

The boat was being tamed by the small, yet powerful waves. I felt

sick and dizzy. I felt my eyes roll back and then, I had my first

reincarnation flashback.

20


A Chinese prostitute from a small brothel in canton,

china. She had just been married to a pirate, Zheng Yi,

and was the center of discussion amongst his red

flag fleet, while boarding the ship.

They say that Ching Shih only

accepted his proposal because

he agreed to an equal share of

power and wealth. She was…

A woman should soften

but not weaken a man.

sigmund freud


The boat hit the shore and reality checked in. as i struggled to come

to my senses, Putti Lal shook me by my shoulders, held me by my

wrist and led the way towards his house.

i was greeted by my mother-in-law, glaring and sizing me up.

22


Next morning, like always, I went to fetch water from the well and

put my pot next to an unfamiliar, shiny, one.

this side is for the high caste thakurs.

low caste use the other side.

Of course it is.

With the pot on my head, I made my way to the dreaded mother-in-law

Only to have the pot broken into pieces by a silly bunch of boys.

look, the low caste

wife is carrying water

for her old husband!

lets see her carry it

without a pot!

23


i unleashed the most brutal

set of curses on them,

leaving them speechless.

You broke the pot?! You’ve

been here for just a day and

you’re already such a pain!

!@#$%*!! %#*

%*#!@ $%#*!

I didn’t break it on purpose.

It broke and there is nothing

I can do about it.

how dare you be insolent

to my mother! go inside

the house, now!

Keep you sharp tongue

tucked inside! Just

wait till I tell your

husband! Putti Lal!

24


Think you’re a

queen, huh?!

Women are the only

oppressed group in our

society that lives in

intimate association with

their oppressors.

evelyn cunningham

I must have blacked out due to the pain. little did I know that this was

just the beginning. my insides were painfully shredded, along with my

Innocence. It was the most demeaning feeling I had ever felt.

25


the pain was snatched away by another falshback and she appeared

from complete darkness, this time as a little girl sitting and

weeping, in a dingy brothel room.

26


You can waste your lives

drawing lines, Or

you can live your life

crossing them.

Shonda Rhimes


I woke up one morning and was determined to escape the months of

abuse. I ran and never looked back.

after several hours of walking

and stumbling, with wounded

feet, I reached my village.

and, finally, my home.

27


Amma was happy to see me but Buppa seemed extremely tense.

She’s an outcast now. Do you know

what they do to such girls?

I know, but Putti Lal

was doing the same

thing to her.

For the first time I saw fear in my mother’s eyes and Disappointment

in my father’s. I did not understand this form of punishment. When I

was ten I was beaten and scolded, but now it was different and it

felt wrong and dirty.

28


At the age of fifteen, I had already been married and raped by my

abusive husband. This was the least of my problems. the entire

village had been informed of his doing. i became an outcast and my

body served as fresh meat to starving dogs.

I felt the eyes of lecherous men undress me with their eyes and

finally the day came when they decided to feed their lust.

29


I was gang raped by several

men with my parents forced

to be witnesses.

I spent sleepless nights on

trees trying to escape further

abuse. I did not know what I did

to deserve such pain.

Buppa was ashamed of me and Amma gave me five rupees, told me to

go and live with my elder sister, Rukmani, in her village.

I'm just a person

trapped inside a

woman's body.

Elaine Boosler

30


A robbery took place back in my village and I was blamed by Mayadin

and jailed for it.

Why have you arrested me?

The headman’s house was

burgled last night.

i wasn’t even in

this village!

Do you think we are fools?!

Why did you leave your husband?

Couldn’t he satisfy you?

That’s none of your

business and you

can’t keep me here!

31 31


they looked at each other, laughed like hyenas, cornered me and

unbuckled their pants

no... not again!

I spent three days, writhing with anger and hatred. Soon, I was

thrown out of jail after Amma was able to give them proof that I

was at Rukmani’s place.

32 32


Days passed by and my wounds began to heal. There was a thick layer

of disappointment settling around me. My own father despised me.

A girl child is a curse. She should

have never left her husband’s house.

How could you even

say that, Buppa? You

think that I should

have let him abuse

me night and day?

33

Men are taught to apologize

for their weaknesses, and

women for their strengths.

Lois Wyse


This is Babu Gujjar and

his gang! We have come

for Phoolan Devi!

Go! hide somewhere!

She’s not here.

She’s gone to

her Aunt’s place.

Is that so? Isn’t

this her brother?

Phoolan, if you

don’t come out,

I’ll chop his ears

and nose off!

Leave my brother

alone! Take me.

34 34


Stop wearing your wishbone

where your backbone

ought to be.

Elizabeth Gilbert


They dragged me to another village and after travelling several

miles on bare feet, I was unable to walk further.

Babu! She can’t walk

any further. Her feet

are giving away.

This is not how you

treat a woman! We

should respect them.

Oh, Respect

them, Vikram?

really?!

3535


abu gujjar pulled me by my hair and threw me on the floor.

I shivered and shut my eyes .

His sweat engulfed my every

pore. I clenched my jaw with

rage and waited.

waited for someone to stop him.

No one came, not even Vikram.

36


Next morning the rays of the sun hit the floor and I screamed. Babu

Gujjar was still not satisfied.

he’s at it again!

For the first time, someone

took action and shot him dead.

I threw the dead body away and

stood there, emotionless.

Hear me loud and clear,

nobody touches this girl.

We will take care of her.

She’s one of us, now.

37 37


Women are forbidden

in gangs, Vikram. They

bring bad luck.

Bandits make their

own luck.

He thought women bring bad luck. Little did he know that I was

about to bring hell on earth. The little flame blazed inside of me,

empowering and connecting me to her, again.

If you want something

said, ask a man; if you

want something done,

ask a woman.

Margaret Thatcher

38 38


in the flashback, She materialized wearing the helmet and

armour of her late husband, Zheng Yi, staring down all

contenders; she ceased command, took over the

plunder and grinned with power.

39


I learned how to use a rifle, and participated in the gang's activities

across Bundelkhand. At last, I had the courage and power to defend

myself and take revenge.

I went back to my village to meet my family. Amma and Didi welcomed

me with warm hugs and tears while father got up and left.

40


She’s caused enough trouble. What is

she back for? She should be with her

husband. That is where she belongs.

The same thing again and again! You

want me to go to my husband?! Now

you wait and watch.

41 41


I stormed off to Putti Lal’s house, and Vikram dragged him out of

the house. Putti Lal struggled and pleaded.

p-ph-phoolan?

42 42


We made him sit on a donkey,

backwards, and paraded him

through the village.

I tied him to a tree and beat

him, black and blue. I was like a

beast whose muzzle had finally

been ripped off.

I felt liberated and for once in control. Overwhelmed, I broke

down in tears, only to wipe them off and remind myself to be tough

and vengeful. my scattered emotions were pulled to a focus and I

felt her force her way into my head, yet again.

43 43


A powerful woman, feared by her fleet of 80,000 men, was

stating the code of conduct out loud which, if not followed,

would mostly result in chopping off their head and

throwing their body in the ocean.

Fifth, ONLY PRETTY

captured WOMEN ARE

TO BE KEPT AND CAN be

divvied up or BOUGHT.

However, if a pirate IS

awarded or purchaseS

a woman, he IS then

considered married to

her and HAS to treat

her WITH RESPECT. iF

NOT, HIS head WILL BE

cHOPPED off and HIS

body WILL BE thrown

in the ocean.

When a woman behaves like

a man, why doesn't she

behave like a nice man?

Edith Evans

44 44


Her appearance gave me strength, every time. I knew what had to be

done. Now, I had the power to change the rules.

Write this on a piece of paper,

“Any man who marries and abuses

a girl or a woman will have his

head chopped off and his body

will be thrown in the lake.”

We walked off leaving Putti to dwell on his sins and slowly die alone.

45 45


I was fire and Vikram was the fuel.

The same thing again and again! You

want me to go to my husband?! Now

you wait and watch.

Because I am a woman,

I must make unusual

efforts to succeed. If

I fail, no one will say,

"She doesn't have what

it takes." They will say,

"Women don't have

what it takes."

Clare Boothe Luce

You’ve avenged your honour.

Now, you’re a real bandit,

just like the rest of us

but remember, if you kill,

kill twenty.

why?

If you kill one, you go

to jail. You kill twenty,

and you’re famous.

46 46


Courage is like a muscle.

We strengthen

it by use.

Ruth Gordon


These words echoed in my ears along with the shot fired, straight

into Vikram’s heart.

My head was jerked back by salty hands and before I could reach

for my gun, I was tied up and kidnapped.

47


They carried me to the river

and dumped me in a boat. I

heard them untying the rope

and the boat set off.

Lying bound in the bottom of

the boat I looked up and saw

the red-haired demon, Shri Ram.

Well? What are you going to do now?

Why don’t you just kill me like

you killed Vikram?!

Oh, you can still be a great

deal of use!

48


The boat hit the shore and they

put a blindfold over my eyes.

They threw me to the ground and

then it all started.

Shri Ram was the first, and then the others, Thakurs, anyone who was

around, and then they took me through other villages.

To my understanding,

consumption of fast

food contributes to

such incidents (rape).

Chowmein leads to

hormonal imbalance

evoking an urge to

indulge in such acts.

Jitender Chhatar

49 49


The blindfold was removed and

I saw things that I would never

to able to forget.

Crowds of faces stared at my

abused and naked body.

Demons came without end from the fires of hell to rape me. one

after the other, leaving permanent scars. after three, long, weeks

of the highest form of torture, it all ended.

50


I was barely alive and was slowly becoming conscious again.

No, no. she’s dead. I’m

not touching her!

With blinking eyes I followed the end of the rope that still bound

me and saw a hand gripping it firmly like the leash of a dog.

51 51


There stood Shri Ram, burning up with anger.

You piece of shit! You thought

you could bully us around and

give us orders. You understand

now who you belong to?

One should not

be adventurous

being a woman.

Sheila Dikshit

52 52


A woman covered me with a blanket and I curled up under it. With

tightly shut eyes I awaited the pain and horror.

53


Shri Ram started beating me with a lathi and the blanket fell away.

He lifted me up by my hair and looked dead into my eyes.

54 54


55 55

Now you are

down to your

level. nothing

but dirt.


this does not

end here. now,

its my turn.

Every villain is a hero

in his own mind.

Tom Hiddleston

56 56


I’ve learned that

people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget

how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

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